Are you aware that food can be a source of toxic chemicals?

With the current trend of using and emitting toxic chemicals, we can never be certain that our food is completely free of any pollutant. From the very beginning, farmers apply weedicides to the fields, then grow vegetables, fruits, rice, nuts and crops of all kinds. Followed by series of pesticides.  Then after harvesting, more chemicals are added for conservation. Then in processing, more and more chemicals are added to give color, enhance the taste and texture, to smell better, and many more qualities that make us greedy to eat them. All these chemicals end up in our stomach.

To make things worse, all those toxic chemicals emitted to atmosphere are directly absorbed by plants or they then contaminate water or soil through rain and are absorbed by roots with water. All those chemicals that are released to water bodies, are either consumed with water itself or after they have been absorbed by trees. Those chemicals released to soil directly, once again are consumed with water or food. All these in addition to inhalation or absorption through skin…

Forget the world, let’s think of our own house. This may not be the situation for all, but majority of Sri Lankans living in Sri Lanka. Yes it is and I know it for sure. People who grow crops in economic scale, definitely use weedicides and pest controls, then they throw the bottles often in open space like under a banana tree, at the field itself or at the river/ canal bank. These are then washed off either to the water, soil or both.

Cockroach sprays are applied into the sink at the night and put cups and other cooking ware to that same sink in the morning. Use the spray bottle while cooking and store them in the kitchen itself for easy access. Won’t this end up in our stomach or on our skin???

Pathogens in food

http://iso22000resourcecenter.blogspot.it/2014/08/food-microorganisms-food-poisoning-i.html

Often food poisoning occurs due to pathogenic microorganisms in food. One famous case is the Clostridium botulinum poisoning through canned food. According to WebMD, there are about 250 types of diseases caused by pathogenic microorganisms such as bacteria and virus [5]. Through meat, eggs, fish, vegetables, processed food, water and unpasteurized milk contaminated with these pathogens. Also through infected people and animals.  

What these toxic chemicals and pathogens can do to us?

One may say, “well, even though we are exposed to all these chemicals aren’t we livings safely..” well, may be for you.. but for the rest of the world it is not so. It says that 7.6 million people die from cancer worldwide every year. Amongst, 4 million people are aged between 30 to 69 years [1]. In 2013, more than 47,000 Americans died from kidney disease [2]. Some 10% of the population worldwide is affected by chronic kidney disease (CKD), and millions die each year because they do not have access to affordable treatment [2]. About Mercury poisoning, well, Minamata incident sets the most famous example in methyl mercury poisoning through fish. Yet, to be certain if necessary,  “Over the limit”, a report on mercury contamination through fish further proves on methyl mercury contamination, by indicating 22 out of 24 contamination cases among heavy fish consumers in United States [3].  The numbers may vary, but the facts remain the same.

A very interesting report says that according to the World Health Organization, “At least 600 million people, or 1 in 10 worldwide, fall ill from contaminated food each year and 420,000 die, many of them are young children”. Furthermore, according to United Nations Agency, “Food-borne diseases – caused by bacteria such as salmonella, viruses, parasites, toxins and chemicals, mostly cause temporary symptoms such as nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting. But they can also cause longer-term illnesses including cancer, kidney or liver failure, brain disorders, epilepsy and arthritis” [4].

Oops..

Well, I guess little awareness can save us from things being worst. Also there are natural ingredients that can be used in our day-to-day life to reduce the effect of toxic chemicals. They include herbal teas, natural food additives, herbal drinks (“Kanda”), leafy vegetables, etc.

Contaminants in food

Let’s hold a shield to the sword. No matter how contaminated your food is, you still need to consume some food for a living. So, the first thing would be to know what kind of contaminants can be served in your plate.

  • Pesticide, weedicide, insecticide residues
  • Food additives such as Monosodium glutamate (Ajinomoto)
  • Heavy metals such as Mercury, POPs, Lead, Arsenic, Cadmium,.. etc.
  • Micro pathogens such as Listeria, Salmonella, Clostridium botulinum,…etc
  • Other chemicals such as carbide

In order to prevent this becoming a longer article to read, I will add details on each of these contaminants separately. But, as for the measures to prevent contamination, given below are some very basic steps that would prevent you from ingesting all these harmful chemicals.

What can we do?

  • Wash your vegetables thoroughly with flowing water before preparation.
  • Avoid eating the peels of vegetables and fruits whenever possible.
  • Allow veggies and fruits to be in the open air for sometime before you store them in the refrigerator. This can help to get rid of volatile pesticide residues in them.
  • Try gardening.. at least leafy vegetables can be supplied from your own garden.
  • Avoid eating fish and meat raw. Cook them properly before consumption.
  • Avoid fatty parts of meat and fish, like the skin.
  • Avoid eating the gut, gills and heads of fish. Because the adipose tissues in the head and other parts involved in food consumption stores most of the fat-soluble pollutants as well as heavy metals.
  • Always check for the expiry date when buying.
  • In order to avoid bad E-numbers/ food additives, go for the label. In some countries, they mention in the label that “these additives can cause adverse effects on children”.
  • When buying pre-cooked or canned food, make sure the can is not damaged or rusted, as damages in aluminum cans can contaminate the food. Also once opened do not store or refrigerate them in the can itself. If you get a foul smell or see milky liquids in food, throw them away without even tasting!
  • Always store cooked food in the refrigerator, better within 2 hours of cooking. When consuming leftover foods or pre-cooked food, heat until they are steaming hot.

I just wonder how many of these you’ll actually remember after closing this page. The list is even longer!  Yet, I made it short. So that anyone can digest as much as possible in order to stay away from “bad guys”.

Reference

  1. World Cancer Day 2013 – Global Press Release. http://www.worldcancerday.org/world-cancer-day-2013-global-press-release (Accessed January 2017).
  2. Fast facts, National Kidney foundation.  https://www.kidney.org/news/newsroom/factsheets/FastFacts (Accessed January 2017).
  3. Groth, E., Over the limit, Mercury policy project, 2008.  http://mercurypolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/mppoverthelimit.pdf (Accessed January 2017).
  4. Food poisoning kills 420,000 people a year worldwide, says WHO report, Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/food-poisoning-kills-420000-people-a-year-worldwide-says-who-report-a6759596.html (Accessed January 2017).
  5. How to Prevent Food Poisoning. http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/food-poisoning/preventing-food-poisoning#1  (Accessed February 2017).

Bibliography

By admin

I am Chalani H.T. Rubesinghe (Bsc. Nat.sc., MSc Env. Sc.), graduated from the Open University of Sri Lanka in 2009 in the stream of Natural sciences with a First class. I completed my Masters in Environmental science at the Postgraduate Institute of Science at Peradeniya, Sri Lanka with a GPA of 3.58. As a child I had a keen interest on oceans and ships. I used to collect details and pictures of ships and spent hours in the library to collect information on oceans. Back then I wanted to become an Oceanographer. I have a huge collection of ocean specimens that in future someday when I'm rich enough, I expect to turn into a museum. When I was doing my masters, Oceanography was unavailable. Instead I had to do Environmental science which eventually became my carrier and also a part of my life. My carrier started as an Environmental Officer from Center for Environmental Justice (CEJ), Sri Lanka. This was the mother who gave me birth, nurtured and raised me up as an Environmental scientist. For this, I gratefully acknowledge Mr. Hematha WIthanage, Executive director, Mr. Dilena Pathragoda, Director- Projects and the whole CEJ team. During my carrier I was engaged in; Studies on enhancing public awareness on chemical management under the grants of UNDP/ GEF/ SGP, Climate change on agriculture and their remedial actions implemented in Sri Lanka, Global study on fish and community mercury contamination carried in association with IPEN and ARNIKA organization, Survey on public perceptions on Wide spreading CKDue in Sri Lanka with Korea Green Association, Contamination of mercury and lead in cosmetics and Asian lead paint elimination project in association with IPEN and EU. In addition I worked as the regional facilitator for Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific for two months. I have also facilitated the Non Carbon Benefits study carried out by CEJ and Sri Lanka Climate and Forest Action Network (SLCFAN). I also got the opportunity to participate in survey and awareness raising sessions of Forest Management Plan Survey Conducted at Nilgala and Bogahapallassa conduct by CEJ incorporation with SHALIN, Finland. Which gave me the opportunity to understand the conflict between forest conservation and marginal residents. All these work included generating reading materials, partial contribution in budgeting, writing updates for granters, organizing meetings/ symposiums for national and international audiences, discussions and field work such as public awareness, surveys and sampling. I was also given the opportunity of participating in international events such as; GAELP (Global Association For Eliminating Lead Paint) held in Thailand, June 2012, as the NGO representative from Sri Lanka to share the experiences on eliminating lead paint in Sri Lanka, IPEN International Toxic Metals Skillshare in Minamata, Japan (3rd-4th of October, 2013) and Minamata International Symposium (5 & 6 October, 2013) to share the experience on CEJ research on mercury and to share the experiences of Minamata victims, and South East Asia Regional Conference on Lead Poisoning (24th and 25th October 2013) held in New Delhi, organized by the Toxics Link, in partnership with Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health, Maulana Azad Medical College, Delhi and the Lata Medical Research Foundation. Later in 2014, I had to shift to Italy in order to fulfill my duty as a wife. Yet, nothing learned ever goes in vain. Since, it is impossible to get a carrier as an environmental scientist here in Italy, I use my spare time to generate something useful and helpful through my website. My younger brother Channaka Oshan Rubesinghe handles all the technical details of this site for me. I must mention that, my husband, ammi, dada, elder brother, younger brother and my both sister-in-laws have always been the encouragement, guidance and strength behind my work.

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